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Archive for September, 2009

A Good Start

A gorgeous morning.

Meg is off to an organizing meeting for a new and so-far-promising alliance of activist organizations, unions and faith groups – something we’ve been discussing quite a bit lately, and both are quite keen to see come to fruition.

Mica is back with us after a week at her mom’s, and I’m super thankful to have my daughter home and the family complete again.

Finished our reading-aloud of Tess of the D’Urbervilles – finally – and started on Michael Ondaatje’s poem-story, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid. Outlaws, poetry and reading aloud to one another in the bath – is there any better combination?

Woke this morning to a fresh-rained city and the sun breaking through, which inspired me to get out into the backyard and clear the masses of grass that have been growing out into the alley, so we can instead put in some planter boxes and use that as growing space for lovely climbing green things. Waiting now for a delivery of several yards of mulch, which means tomorrow we can really start the re-do of the yard, replacing grass with mulch and six four-by-four planters and pathways and quiet sitting spaces with birds and bees come spring.

Thinking we’ll get active as legal observers during the Olympic disaster to come – Pivot Legal and The BC Civil Liberties Association looking for folks willing to monitor the cops and watch for civil rights violations and general security thugishness, which seems a very worthy thing for us to do.

A day with my kid, an evening with my love when Mica heads out to  birthday party, books and converstion, little projects coming to fruition, a growing home and a seed of activist mobilization.

Y’know, it ain’t all bad. A day could start out a whole lot worse than this.

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Transit and Tories

Thinking on the news, after a bus-ride to work with a large coffee and a couple of Vancouver’s free dailies.

During the together-portion of our commute, Meg and I chatted about the idea – floated by Translink and fought by city councilors in the burbs – that local bridges could be made toll-zones to fund the regional transit authority.

And then, as I left my girl and hopped on bus number two, I find in the paper a little piece featuring Larry Frank’s thoughts on the matter. Larry is a prof at UBC, one of the world’s top public transportation experts, and a guy I know quite well. So I was pleased to see that his comments were pretty much in line with what Meg and I had been discussing.

Short version? Tolls may not be a bad idea, and can be an important piece of a two-prong agenda – to finance infrastructure and upkeep for an expanded public system while driving up the cost of cars and so encouraging more folks to drop them as commuter vehicles. The key, though, is whether this really is the objective, or whether in practice the result would be a cash-grab with no substantive improvement in services.

I am all about public transit. I don’t drive, I don’t ride a bike. So I get around mostly on my own two feet or on the network of buses and skytrains that cross-crosses the city. And I like it, for the most part, cause I get to read and drink coffee on my way to and from work rather than sitting in exhaust fumes. Transit is also one of the few really public, really collective, experiences we have left – a place where a wide diversity of folks from all different communities come together. And while that occasionally has its challenges, more often, I think, it engenders conversation and provides a super-important experience in community.

I would like nothing more than to see an end to the automobile in the city core, at least during regular working hours, and a vast, well-kept transit system. It’s an incredibly important public service, a major infrastructural means to build a coherent city, and quite simply a requirement if we are to continue living in settlements of this size while weaning ourselves off oil. Obviously, then, I also think transit should be completely and universally free of charge.

Where I get frustrated with the transit system, then, is when we see cuts to service and increasing fares, and the transition of our bus networks away from public service and to a private enterprise model . And here’s where I worry about the toll thing. Will this really achieve what it can? Or will it mean simply more costs for us with no real benefits? Would this really, in practice, be about better service and less cars? Or would it end up as simply one more step to the universal marketplace?

Me, I’d like to see this thing given a try, but with a few more specific components:

Tolls, yes, but tolls earmarked for expenditure on a combination of expanded services and decreased fares. These two have to go hand in hand if we are really to make transit an attractive choice for people, and to keep it meaningfully ‘public’.

Rather than a minimal toll all the time, a high toll during working hours and no toll on evenings and weekends when folks are less likely to be driving alone and more likely to be heading somewhere off a major transit route.

Introduce toll-waivers for car and van pools and for folks who can demonstrate that the vehicle is a fundamental requirement of their jobs. Tolls are another form of taxation, yes, but if part of the goal is to get folks out of cars, a global tax ain’t gonna do it cause people will be paying anyway. Target those who drive un-necessarily, and we’ll more likely see the effect we’re looking for.

Something along those lines, I can certainly get behind.

And now, news item two.

Brian Mulroney. Y’know, this guy represented all the very worst when he was in power. His was Canada’s big push to the right as he showed us a Canada that danced hand in hand with Ronald Reagan, cozied up to Margaret Thatcher, sold its sovereignty in the free trade deals and brought neoliberal austerity into every home. Fucker.

But there’s nothing like the Conservatives to make me miss the Tories.

A few weeks ago, I was visiting my folks and watching the TV news, and caught a bit of an interview with Mulroney in which he chided Harper et al for entirely failing to protect Canada and fundamentally misunderstanding that Canada is not the US. The line was to the effect that, to be conservative in Canada means to be right of centre fiscally and left of centre culturally, and by failing to see that Harper was doing significant damage not only to his party but to the whole country.

Hmmm. Kinda interesting. But knowing that there’s no love lost between the current PM and the old one, I presumed that much of this was just an excuse for shots at Harper.

But today the paper reports on a big celebration party in Montreal last night – a party to commemorate Mulroney’s election 25 years ago and a chance for conservatives in this country to put on a united front. And Mulroney? Well, the paper doesn’t indicate any public attack on Harper. But what it does cover is really far more interesting. Brian Mulroney, architect of Canada’s neoliberal plan, wades into the US health care debate, with this to say:

“The attacks on President Obama are often bitter and mean-spirited and his approval ratings, his popularity, are sinking like a stone. Still he fights on…Fifty years from today, Americans willrevere the name ‘Obama’. ..He chose the tough responsibilities of national political leaders over the meaningless nostrums of sterile partisanship…”

Huh. How bout that.

Brian Mulroney, you sure as hell fucked this country over, and you bear no small responsibility for the fact that we today have to fight to maintain our own public health care.  Still, I gotta admit it. When I look at our political spectrum today, I kinda miss you and the old Tories.

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It is no secret that Meg and I are big on books, and that we try to make it a regular practice to read to one another. In the past, it’s been poems shared, as we take turns picking randomly from the many poetry books on the shelf. Lately, we’ve moved onto fiction, with Meg reading to me from Tess of the D’Urbervilles, something that happened mainly as a result of my near-blindness over the summer and my inability to read for myself.

Anyway, we’ve been reading Tess. And recently, while out with some co-workers, Meg mentioned our little reading-aloud ritual, and noticed that it felt oddly confessional to share this with them – like the sharing of a deep intimacy. Which then led us into a lengthy discussion about the place of reading aloud in relationships, and how quickly commodification can fundamentally transform social practices that have been hundreds if not thousands of years in the making.

Yeah, we’re nerds. We know.

But it is something that I find quite striking, now that I reflect upon it.

As reading of Tess has reminded us, the reading aloud of novels and poems was a major source of entertainment up until very recently, a practice that itself hearkens back to the age-old practice of story-telling around the fire. Human societies have always told stories collectively, publicly, as performance, so that art is a community act, the commonality of our myths arising not only from the fact that we all know them but equally from that fact that we make and share them as a social group. And the public readings and family gatherings to hear stories read aloud lasted far past the development of print media and the rise of literacy, suggesting that even when it became possible to individualize the story, human society nonetheless kept a performative, collective practice around this kind of art. So it is incredible that a practice so common up until so recently now seems to us something confessional, something we whisper intimately.

I won’t bother with the lengthy analysis here – mainly cause I’m just not in that mode right now, but do want to get something posted on this damn blog. But on occasions like this the efficacy of capital to destroy relationships and create its own simply boggles my mind. I mean, we are only a few generations into the individualized mass media that television provides, and so quickly – in the space of 50 years – that consumer culture has largely displaced long-standing practices and rituals of collective entertainment/ social cohesion – reading aloud being only one of them, but one of the most widespread and commonplace. It’s not unlike the speed with which a big box store or shopping mall can displace a whole neighbourhood and a long history of local, community based traders and producers. And, as with that situation, what is lost is not just the practice itself, or the small shops in the case of the other example, but the network of social relationships, the daily interactions among neighbours, the active public life, the community, that our long-standing practices engendered, and which ultimately arise from and help to reproduce all that makes us human.

Have I mentioned yet today that I hate capitalism?

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I am writing now, for the first time, with a pair of reading glasses across the bridge of my nose – not the result of the slowly-diminishing eyesight one expects at this age, but surgery on some crazy early cataracts I developed. My eyes generally had worked fine, but as the cataracts grew over , it became increasingly hard to see anything but a white haze. That, thankfully, is gone now, but I am left with an artificial lens which cannot see clearly at close range. Takes some getting used to. But I am certainly glad to have the sight back generally.

Much new in the little world of my own head these days. Have been working like hell to get our basement suite finished so we can have full use of our own home – something that in recent weeks has been weighing ever heavier on my mind as well as Meg’s. But we see an end in sight, and are expecting – or, more to the point, will be insisting on – having that space occupied next week so we can finally get everything organized and make a place that is just ours.

My own anxiety has broken, which is awesome, and I am once again in bliss-land on the home front. So so nice. Woke this morning from a dream I did not remember, but overwhelmingly feeling thankful for Meg. Y’know, all of us find challenges in our relationships – often, if not mostly, not because of the relationships themselves but because of the shit we bring with us – the lingering insecurities and doubts that seem to pop up periodically. And it is easy, when those are active, to become fixated on them and overlook what is real. I certainly feel like I fell into that space for a week or so there. And so today was so glad to wake particularly thankful, and particularly aware of all the adjustments Meg has made in order to be with me.

In particular, I’ve been thinking about child-rearing, because it is the time of year that we need to shuffle agendas, manage schedules, and generally sort out how daily life will look for the next few months. That involves a good deal of negotiation with my ex, and means that for a time I am pretty much entirely consumed by Mica’s schedule, Mica’s plans. And Meg? She is awesome through it all.

I was thinking, as I woke this morning, what a huge adjustment it is to go from single life to not only partnership but to life with a child, and that being with me has meant that Megan be willing to re-make life expectations and life realities to accommodate step-parenthood. So easy for those of us who are parents to forget that what has become simply the norm for us is something profoundly new for our partners. And how important it is to remind ourselves now and then what our past choices mean for those we love, and how much those people must take on. Tension with exes. Regular periods in which we become entirely consumed by something in our kids’ lives, and zone out of relationship-land. Constant feelings of in-between-ness, as parenting-life and partnership-life sit not always-comfortably together, and regularly compete. Tasks and outings disrupted by lessons, homework, birthday parties etc. As parents, we just get used to this, and eventually it comes to simply be what we expect. But for those who take this on in order to be with us, it’s not second-nature but change, and that’s hard. And th fact that someone makes that change for us is pretty fucking incredible, and deserves to be acknowledged and appreciated.

Anyway, Meg is awesome, and she and Mica have both gone above and beyond in their efforts to adjust to a new family and a new living arrangement. And today, for some reason, I am simply very very aware of that, and super thankful for both of them. Today, I am not taking for granted all that they both do to make this work. Today, I am focusing on appreciation.

In other news, it’s back to work, and not as bad as I anticipated. A wedding this weekend for two of the loveliest people I know, which I am super-looking forward to, and a tinge of dread as the event is also likely to involve some requirement to engage with bits of history I don’t especially want to engage with – as is always the case with gatherings such as this. I am song-writing, and reviewing old stories and poems as I consider submitting to the judgement of publishers, inspired by Meg’s recent move in this direction. And getting excited about the year to come, and all that is in store for us – John Prine with my great love, a Motorhead weekend with some of our favourite people, an unexpected but very welcome visit from the much-loved and much-missed Red Chris – and  garden and outdoor space and travel and more.

A rough August, but a pretty damn good September on the horizon, it seems to me. A time of hope and appreciation, with a home that’s all ours, a kid entering her last year of elementary school, and a feeling that the world is full of possibility and potential. Not bad. Not bad at all.

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